Dear Martin Smith,
I wrote to you on 26th April 2009 to ask you whether or not rumours that the SWP had broken its ties with the anti-Semitic jazz player, Gilad Atzmon, were true. To date I have had no reply, which was not totally unexpected given the record for openness of the SWP.
You may recall that I wrote:
Cde. Smith,Coincidentally, no sooner had I e-mailed you than I received a post from the well-known Jewish anti-Zionist, Lenni Brenner, asking me whether the SWP had denounced Atzmon. Lenni of course had no problem from the very start in denouncing Atzmon's politics. Of course I didn’t know the answer to his question but Lenni kindly attached an article from the Guardian of March 6 2009, ‘Manic beat preacher’ . In the course of an interview with John Lewis, Atzmon’s relationship with the SWP came up. Lewis notes that
I have heard from various people that the SWP has now decided to have nothing to do with Atzmon. My purpose in writing is to ask whether or not this is true or not. If this is true then well and good, since there is absolutely no doubt by now that Atzmon is anti-Semitic, especially with his articles seeking to blame Jews for the current capitalist crisis.
I am not seeking to gloat or say I was right or publicise that fact so much as to ascertain that what I have been told is true.
I would therefore welcome your assurances on this.
‘Some Palestinian activists see his provocatively anti-Jewish rhetoric as discrediting their cause, while the Socialist Workers party, which once proudly paraded him at conferences, has distanced itself from him. "I don't give a shit, really," he says with a shrug.Other rumours have surfaced recently that the relationship is not what it was, however one would have thought that a group which purports to be a Marxist, revolutionary socialist party would have the honesty and transparency to come clean, to be open about the matter, to admit that they got it wrong and to reflect on why that was the case, rather than letting people learn about the latest SWP about-turn from a liberal bourgeois newspaper such as The Guardian.
It is a long time since I was expelled from the International Socialists (the SWP’s precursor). However, whatever our differences at the time, I do recall that there was one thing the SWP made absolutely clear with its ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow’ slogan which was emblazoned on the front cover of Socialist Worker. It stood proudly in the tradition of the anti-Stalinist opposition. I recall how it poked fun at how the Stalinists had airbrushed Trotsky out of a picture taken with Lenin. It criticised the methodology of Stalinism,. which never took stock of its previous twists and turns before moving on to yet more of the same kind – from the Third Period to Popular Frontism and worse.
Yet here you are doing exactly the same. Changing your position but never acknowledging that it is such, nor being open about the reasons for such a change.
The fact that it took you four years to wake up to the fact that Atzmon was overtly anti-Semitic should be a matter of political self-examination and concern in itself. Maybe his attribution of the economic and political crisis that is engulfing western capitalism to the conspiracies of international finance Jewry forced your hand. I refer in particular to his attribution of the need for ‘spiritual de-Judaification’ of the financial world to one John Reynolds, Chair of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group, which resulted in Atzmon facing a libel action, since Reynolds had said no such thing.
Or maybe what eventually moved you was Atzmon's belief that socialism was no more than robbery of the (Gentile) rich:
'“Robbery and plunder doesn’t live in peace with a deep understanding of the notion of human equality” and citing his own youthful vengeance towards “wealthy goyim,” Atzom further asserts: “The Jewish nationalist would rob Palestine in the name of the right of self-determination, the Jewish progressive is there to rob the ruling class and even international capital in the name of world working class revolution.”Perhaps you hoped that if you didn’t mention the subject then no one would notice and the problem would be solved that way. Either way that is the height of political dishonesty. One would have thought that a group that proudly trumpets its anti-racist credentials, might ask itself, in all seriousness, how it was that it managed to get into bed with a certified anti-Semitic crank? Was it all because of his music?
I should point out that the statement you issued on 21 June 2005, in response to the picket that Jews Against Zionism organised at Bookmarks in protest at your hosting Atzmon for a talk on Otto Weininger, Hitler’s favourite Jew, is still on your website. [accessed 22.5.09.] Does this statement, in the absence of anything to the contrary, still reflect your position? It claimed that
Well of course all this was irrelevant. Bobby Fischer was also Jewish and was an acclaimed chess Grand Master, but that didn’t stop him being anti-Semitic.‘One or two small groups are claiming that Gilad is an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. We would like to state the following:
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli born Jew who served in the Israeli Defence Force and who now lives in “self-exile” in Britain.
He is an internationally acclaimed jazz musician whose album Exile won BBC Best Jazz Album of 2003.
The SWP would also like to make it clear, that we would never give a platform to a racist or fascist.’
At the risk of intruding on private grief, I will repeat the question again. Has or has not the SWP broken with Gilad Atzmon? Surely that isn’t too difficult a question for you to answer?